Our Whyte Ridge: local musician finds his way to help community

When my family moved to Whyte Ridge 3 years ago, everything was new to me – new area, new neighbours, and a new school for the kids. I used to take a bus to work from where we lived before, so the commute to work was also new to me. At 7 am in the morning the bus is usually pretty empty. The passengers are either still sleepy, or busy looking into their devices without paying much attention to people around them. All of them, except one fellow. He looked quite different from others. He smiled to everyone on the bus, and had a small talk with people sitting next to him. I quickly found that he was a musician. So on one of the mornings, I sat next to him and had a chat.

His name is Steven, and I am sure quite a few passengers of the 7 am route 181 to Downtown bus know him too. Since music is my passion, we often chat about his music life and the things he likes doing. One day, after pushing our bus out of deep snow, Steven told me something that I decided to share with you.

KP: How long have you lived in Whyte Ridge, and where are you originally from?

Steven Crooks

Steven: I have lived in Whyte Ridge for a year and a half now, but have lived in Winnipeg for a total of thirteen years. My mother was born and raised in Newfoundland, a full fledged newfie. My father was born in New Brunswick, but was raised all over, due to his father being in the air force. He would spend his later teens and early adulthood travelling between Gimli and Winnipeg for school and work. For myself, I was born and raised in Thompson, Manitoba, about 800 km north of Winnipeg. I would remain there until the age of twenty. At the age of twenty I moved to Winnipeg with my band mates from Dreadnaut, to pursue “the dream”.

KP: When did you first start being interested in music?

Steven: I would say music has been in many of our lives from the day we are born in one way or another, and I can’t remember a time where music wasn’t interesting. I have some family members who are wonderful musicians, and I’ve been watching my Mom and family sing in church since as long as I can remember. It kinda came a little bit natural with my surroundings. It wasn’t till grade six where I tried out the alto sax, and played my first instrument for the next two years, dropping it in grade eight because it wasn’t cool or something.

At the age of fifteen myself and two of my best friends were introduced to the guitar. We lived and breathed our guitars for the years to follow. By the age of seventeen I was asked by an older student who I didn’t know at the time, to try out bass guitar for his band, after seeing me shred a couple Metallica riffs. I showed up, tried out and became the bass player for the band “Drivel” for the next two and a half years. We released an album called “From Time to Time”, it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. After an amazing turn of events, that maybe I should leave for another time, as it is a bit of a long story. I would put down my bass guitar and start singing full time in a new band with my guitar player from Drivel and a second guitar player. We would call ourselves “Dreadnaut” and move to Winnipeg to join our drummer and bassist who were also originally from Thompson as well.

KP: Do you play any instruments?

Steven: I still play some guitar but not enough to brag about. My strong suit is singing so I just try and stick to that.

KP: What else do you like doing?

With Tom Cochrane and”Red Rider”

Steven: Between a full time day job and working on music in the evenings and weekends I don’t have a whole lot of time for much else. I do get out to see concerts, both touring and local acts. It is very important to always support the local artists in any way you can. Also hanging out with your family and friends is always a must you have to make time for. If I’m lucky I get a little downhill skiing in the winter, and I love anything to do with the water in the summer, along with camping.

KP: I know you play in a band, so how would you describe your experience?

Steven: Well it has been that, an experience. Through my twenties, Dreadnaut released three albums and grew in popularity as the years went on. We were fortunate enough to experience the ride of touring and selling albums and playing all types of shows from people’s basements and back yards to arena’s. Dreadnaut played it’s very first show in August 2003 at The Zoo in downtown Osbourne, and would call it home for the next ten years. We played an annual Halloween show every year at The Zoo, and we called it “Night of the Living Dread”. It’s kind of weird how on our 10th annual Halloween show “Night of the Living Dread” 10, on October 31st, 2015, we would headline The Zoo one last time, before The Zoo would close its doors for good.

Over the years Dreadnaut toured and played some great shows also sharing the stage with some of our favourite bands from our teen years and present time. Our last album “A Taste of What’s to Come” hit the top 10 HMV charts across Canada in 2009 for five weeks hitting number 2. We played the arena in our home town of Thompson, for the annual Nickel Days concert, and we have played at the MTS Centre twice. I don’t think there is a venue in Winnipeg we haven’t played. Dreadnaut has taken a little down time over the last few years, due to work and growing families but we have always stuck together, and we still play shows and work on new music. We hope to do a new album in the near future. Overall the experience has been one that not many get to enjoy, and I am always grateful I had the pleasure of doing so.

Since Dreadnaut has been on a little down time over the last few years, myself and a few friends have started a new project called “Wakefyre”. Wakefyre is also based out of Thompson, MB, as all members live there besides myself. We are currently recording our first album at Private Ear Recordings out of Winnipeg, and we are hoping for a summer to early fall release. Wakefyre was fortunate enough to play our first show in June of 2015, providing direct support for Tom Cochrane with Red Rider at Thompson’s annual Nickel Day’s concert. We have been on a productive upswing ever since.

KP: Now, could please tell about your recent concert? What was special about it?

Steven: So the recent concert you are talking about was an awareness concert for the youth of Cross Lake, MB, which Wakefyre had the pleasure of being a part of. Cross Lake has been facing a suicide crisis and a good friend of mine felt he needed to do something about it. Keith Proulx a local musician of Winnipeg who is originally from The Pas, MB, was shaken by the news of Cross Lake. It is so close to home for him and so close to home for me and my band members as well, as Cross Lake is located right in the middle of The Pas and Thompson. Keith decided he wanted to reach out to the local musicians of Winnipeg, and collect donated instruments to deliver to the youth of Cross Lake, while playing an awareness concert at the same time.

Keith reached out to me after coming up with his idea, knowing my history in charity work and awareness shows for youth, and being so close to home for me, he thought I would be interested in helping out. I was so moved by his plan and quickly agreed to help. With the help of social media and all of us putting the word out about our awareness show, Keith was able to collect over forty donated instruments to take to Cross Lake.

With Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes

On March 17th, Keith, and a couple of close friends, along with Wakefyre, would travel to the local high school of Cross Lake for the suicide awareness show. We were met by people of all ages when we arrived, and there was a beautiful glow amongst the youth, knowing they had some great out of town entertainment to look forward to. Throughout the night, we had local high school musicians and other local bands open up the night, some of them would talk about how the local suicides have affected them, and it was very moving. Before Wakefyre went on to close the night, we presented all the donated instruments to the high school. The kids were all so grateful and the look on some of their faces is what always makes these events worth it. Wakefyre would play the final set of the night and would speak of hope, love, confidence, and the importance of reaching out for help. The end of the night was full of hugs, pictures, and thanks. It was a very beautiful and rewarding evening, and we all can’t wait to go back.

At Cross Lake high school

The high school has plans to make a program where kids can sign up to play the donated instruments and possibly sign some out for homework. We are just getting started and hope a good program can be put into place as the year goes on. Keith, along with myself and Wakefyre plan on returning to Cross Lake every six months to keep the positive movement progressing, as well as bringing newly donated instruments with us when we go. It would be my pleasure to do a later interview for this newsletter on the progress we make in Cross Lake over the next year.

KP: If you got a chance to say something to the people of Whyte Ridge, what would it be?

Steven: Support your local artists please, in one way or another. We live in one of the most beautiful communities of Winnipeg, and everyone I meet from here is always so great. Maybe we can do a street party one day and enjoy each other’s company somewhere other than the bus. I look forward to meeting more people from the community and wish everyone well. I would like to thank Kirill Pirgalin for taking an interest, and asking me to do this interview, and until next time, thank you.